BRENTWOOD -- The Heritage High girls volleyball team had already established itself as a perennial playoff contender when the 2013 season began.
Since their program was founded in 2005, the Patriots had reached the North Coast Section Division I semifinals once, had made the playoffs four times and had won five playoff matches.
Heritage was also a mainstay in the Bay Area News Group's Top 15 East Bay rankings, and had become a favorite in the Bay Valley Athletic league the last three seasons.
But the Patriots program took a huge step forward this year, reaching the NCS Division I finals and nearly knocking off No. 1 seed San Ramon Valley in the championship match. Heritage also went 10-0 in the BVAL, and reached the CIF Northern Regional playoffs.
That success is largely due to the work of head coach Janet Hannigan, who has been there since the beginning.
"The most impressive and effective thing about Janet is how she's able to motivate her teams," San Ramon Valley coach Brian Fujinaga said. "They always seem to have so much spirit and enthusiasm for each other. She's able to develop a sense of family and closeness in her program better than anyone I know."
Even when San Ramon Valley was about to win the NCS title, Hannigan implored her players not to give up, which is one of the many reasons she has been chosen as the Bay Area News Group's East Bay Coach of the Year.
"We all play with a mentality to never give up, and it's because we are playing for this program that our coach has built, the players she has molded, and the school she's impacted," Heritage setter Heather Reed said. "Janet is a great coach because she furthers your skills and pushes you to a new level, which many coaches try to do. She's an amazing coach because she truly listens. I don't think other high schools could match the connections that she builds with her players."